Month of Ramadhan
Muslims around the world have begun fasting this month. It is the month of Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Families prepare for a time of self-restraint and increased worship, and plan how they will deal with the practicalities of changes in eating schedules, activities, and even sleeping times. The fast begins just before the break of dawn and no food or drink is allowed during the day. Muslims wake up before dawn to eat the early morning meal called suhoor. At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayers and a meal called the iftar.
Following the iftar it is customary for people to go to the mosque for prayers and worship. Every evening the mosque bustles with activity, with special prayers, congregational meals, and various programs for adults and children. The nights of Ramadhan are a special time for Muslims, although practical considerations of work and school schedules do necessitate adherence to a reasonable sleeping schedule. Weekend evenings in Ramadhan, however, are often spent at the mosque, or with family and friends. Not only are they a time for devotional activities, but also a time to eat, relax, socialize, and most importantly, build community spirit. The last ten nights of the month are especially significant as this period includes the night when the Qur’an was revealed. This night, known as the Laylatul Qadr (Night of Power), is a special night of worship when Muslims try to stay awake the entire night. Many believe that those prayers offered sincerely on the holy night will be accepted by God.
To many, fasting seems exceedingly difficult, and one may wonder how Muslims can handle the challenge of hunger, thirst, and exhaustion for an entire month. Yet most Muslims – adults as well as children – become accustomed to it, and enjoy the special challenges associated with the holy month The fast is meant to teach discipline, self-restraint, and generosity. The Qur’an says: O You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be pious (2:183). One of the benefits of Ramadan is an increased compassion for those who lack the necessities of life, and awareness as to how it feels to be hungry and needy. It is also a month of self-purification and reflection, meant to create a renewed focus on spirituality amidst our busy lives. Muslims learn to cherish the feeling of togetherness shared by family and friends throughout the month, and the spirit it revives within them. These benefits are very much practical; the yearly lessons in self-restraint and discipline carry forward to all other aspects of a Muslim’s life, such as work and education.
When the fasting ends at the start of the new lunar month, it is celebrated with a holiday called Eid-al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking). For Muslims, the Eid is an exciting culmination of a special month. Gifts are exchanged; friends and family gather to pray in congregation; and everyone thanks Allah for having had the opportunity to worship and fast during the month. The challenges of the month are over, but most Muslims are sad to see an end to the excitement and warmth that Ramadhan brings.